The new Fox series begins with a bang before the real drama begins.
Warning: This is an overview of the Premiere Episode of Monarch, so there will be scads of spoilers here. We strongly recommend that you not read this if you have not yet watched the episode.
The Queen of Country Music will have to pass on her crown. But the succession may not go as smoothly as she hoped. And her husband is gunning for… someone. What are we to make of this? Here are our five takeaways from “Stop at Nothing,” Episode 101 of Monarch.
Takeaway No. 1
Won’t deny it: We were extremely uncomfortable — and, yes, a little misty-eyed — while watching Dottie Roman (Susan Sarandon) overdosing so soon after the recent suicide of Naomi Judd. And all the talk about succession after the death of a country music queen just after the demise of Queen Elizabeth — sheesh. We kept reminding ourselves that this episode was written and filmed a long time before both of those real-life tragedies, and that the producers weren’t being exploitative, or even attempting a ripped-from-the-headlines, Law & Order type of thing. Still, if you want to talk about a situation where it looked like life imitated art…
Takeaway No. 2
And right away, we have a mystery: Who was on the business end of that lethal weapon fired by Albie Roman (Trace Adkins) during the episode’s opening moments before we flashed back to three months earlier? Our first thought was that he finally uncovered, and executed, whoever leaked the news of his wife’s cancer diagnosis to People Magazine. But then we found out that, no, that crafty minx Dottie did that herself, as Step One in her meticulously planned cruise down the River Styx. So who did Albie plant in the ground? Maybe that lawyer we saw extorting Dottie? And while we’re on that subject: Maybe the blackmail has something to do with those flashbacks to the burning barn?
Anna Friel as Nicolette “Nicky” Roman
Takeaway No. 3
The writers haven’t wasted much time generating sympathy for poor Nicky Roman (Anna Friel). She’s been living, and singing, so long in the shadow of her mother, Dottie, that it may be too late to launch her own superstardom. (First, she’s denied her solo at the big music industry shindig; then that creepy manager none-too-subtly indicates that she probably doesn’t have the chops to take her mom’s place in the hearts of country music fans.) Her husband, struggling actor Clive Grayson (Adam Croasdell), is a cheating louse. (Maybe that’s why he has to struggle — he sure doesn’t sound convincing when he tries to cover up his, ahem, extracurricular activities.) Dottie guilt-trips her into assisting her suicide after the celebratory musicale. And at said musicale, she discovers that kid sister Gigi (Beth Ditto) may be a better singer — and definitely has her own eye set on country music superstardom, even though she heretofore didn’t act (or dress) like she wanted such a glittering prize. (Wonder what turn their rivalry will take after Gigi gate-crashes Dottie’s death scene?) If things don’t start getting better for Nicky in future episodes, we fear we may see her brandishing a weapon of her own.
Beth Ditto as Gigi Tucker-Roman
Takeaway No. 4
Taking a cue from the edgy relationship with John and Jamie Dutton in Yellowstone — or between Big Daddy and Gooper in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof — the writers here have come up with another subplot about a gruff, blunt-spoken father and a son who can never win his approval. In this case, we have middle child Luke Roman (Joshua Sasse), who was handpicked by Dottie to be CEO of the family’s business, Monarch Entertainment, and apparently has been extremely successful at the job — and Albie, who is singularly unimpressed by Luke’s wheeler-dealing, and doesn’t mind telling him so. What gives? Did Luke try to tell his parents that they should be recording more “commercial” music? (Speaking of music: It’s going to take a while before we can fully accept it when characters here sing songs made famous by other people, but never mind.) Does Albie know something about Luke’s fling with Kayla Roman-Tucker (Meagan Holder), Gigi’s wife? Or is Albie just an ornery cuss who, every so often, shoots somebody? Lord knows, when it comes to ornery, few do it better than Trace Adkins.
Trace Adkins and Joshua Sasse
Takeaway No. 5
Love her or hate her or feel something in between about her, you can’t deny that Susan Sarandon knows how to sell a juicy line with just the right spin that is dead-solid perfect for her character. Which serves her (and us) very well when, early on, at the press conference keyed to her Lifetime Achievement honor, Dottie cracks: “A Lifetime Achievement Award? Wow! Y’all sure know how to make a girl feel special.” Playful pause. “And old.” Later, as Dotti tells us all we need to know about her affectionate but authoritative control-freakishness while demanding help with her assisted suicide, Sarandon is both laugh-out loud funny and heart-wrenchingly affecting when she explains: “God is killing me, Nicolette. I just want to get it done on my own terms. Now I want to die the way I live: With a smile on my face, and perfect hair.” If we see any more of Sarandon in future episodes, it’ll have to be in flashbacks. Here’s hoping for lots of flashbacks. And not just ones about burning barns.